MM-Game Thoughts: Hard Mechanics Power vs. Soft Mechanics Power

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Continued discussion on the concept of “MM-LARPs” and documenting my game design theory as I began working on Gnostica. (Ed. 10/1/2023)

There is an important distinction to be made between the acquisition of hard mechanic power and the acquisition of soft mechanic power. Here are the definitions I’m working under. This is not to be confused with hard and soft rules which come up later.

Hard Mechanic Power – includes powers gained on a character sheet through the expenditure of XP as well as the creation or use of equipment that has a rules effect on the game system through abilities gained through XP (craftmanship, enchanted weapons creation etc.). This does not include leadership positions of in-game social organizations that have rules-impacting effects within the game as these positions are determined by player choice, not XP.

Soft Mechanic Power – includes powers gained through roleplay or out-of-character coordination and not the expenditure of XP. It includes implicit powers (what other characters believe you can do and modify their behavior accordingly), explicit powers (what you know you can get others to do and they will do), as well as hard-mechanic equipment gained through in-game negotiations with other players. Soft mechanic power also includes the hard mechanic powers a game grants to leadership positions in the game (if there are any) because leadership positions are usually determined by player character action and choice, not XP.

Tim C.


I don’t quite understand the Soft Mechanic part but it may be because I do not know the whole picture…

Whenever your character gets another character to do something for them through roleplay (bribery, manipulation, intimidation, cooperation etc.) that’s an example of an advancement in soft-mechanic power. It’s not tracked anywhere, you don’t have to spend XP for it but it can and will make your character more powerful.

On the other hand, if you want to advance your character’s power by buying disciplines, magical abilities, or craft skills (whatever the game calls it) you usually have to spend XP. That’s a hard mechanic accumulation of power. Each of those powers has finitely defined specific rules that apply to them, and you can only use them in certain ways.

Any character’s “real” power is a combination of hard mechanic (what’s on their sheet and how they use it) and soft mechanic power (how they can work with others to accomplish what they want). My belief is that in most games your soft-mechanic ability far outstrips hard-mechanic in the ability to generate total power for a character or their in-game organization.

Why does it matter? The definition becomes important when talking about equitable progression amongst paying members in advancing their character’s power. In my belief hard-mechanics progression MUST be equitable amongst all players: spending $3,000 to buy a high-power character would not be equitable to the member who is advancing it up within the game. Soft-mechanic accumulation however is not required to be equitable. Equitable progression is another topic I’m going to post on down the road so it may make more sense there.

Another point: soft mechanic means of gaining power include out-of-character organization. If you, me, and cyberduck all decide to form a group of linked characters before the game starts who will cooperate together we will have more potential power through organization than if we go in alone. Often in online games Guilds/Outfits are formed and managed entirely through out-of-character methods, and these groups can wield tremendous power within the game itself.


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